Heart-Burn

You’ve heard that story of Moses . . . you know, the guy whose mom put him in a small basket-boat and floated him down the river when she couldn’t protect him anymore. Long story that ensued but many years later he winds up watching a herd of sheep on the back side of a desert (not sure if the front side was any more attractive).

Anyway, he is strolling along wondering when he will ever get a job promotion when he sees a bush up ahead on fire. He walks over to take a look. Probably the most excitement he’s had in weeks. As he approaches he hears a voice calling out his name. Now this is really unusual, to understate the event, and Moses realizes he is being confronted by the voice of God.

Lots of things to observe here and the story gets pretty bizarre. But I want to stop and ask a wierd question. Have you ever been around God? Ever hear him talk to you? How about a strong Presence that you thought and felt must be what God would feel like.

Most of us who have been around churches and spiritual people have at one time or another had an encounter with God or at least an experience of inner awakening. Do you remember?

Did His Spirit move you; change your pre-conceived notion of the existence or of your relationship with the King of the Universe?

What did He sound like? What did He feel like? How did YOU feel? Did the experience make you DO anything or act any particular way? Does an encounter like that cause or invoke an anticipation within to let it happen again? Was it a scary event?

There have been a few times in my life when I clearly felt His presence that caused a life course change. That is, I knew that I wanted to feel that way again, I wanted to live so I would not be a stranger to that presence.

Yes, I know “God is always with us.” What I want to call attention to is that moment when all other stuff of importance loses color in the warm brilliance of Shalom love. Your demeanor softens, a peaceful boldness comes over and around you. Your heart swells with anticipation as you welcome the largeness of a Presence your spirit longs for–but maybe didn’t know it was missing.

Some friends of Jesus felt this shortly after losing his physical presence in death to despicable murder. They were grieving the loss as they walked together and tried to recall how things used to be.

A fellow traveler joined with them and listened to their sad story. As he shared clips of OT scripture with them, they felt better, even encouraged. They liked what this stranger told them; how they felt with him around. He was so affirming and their spirits were lifted. “Say, won’t you stay for dinner,” one of them suggested.

The stranger agreed and as they laid back on their pillows to eat he broke the bread into pieces and shared it with them. Then the lightning struck! Their hearts swelled, like yours has done. His Presence was expressed in a warm and gentle aura that lingered as He disappeared.

They looked at each other and instantly knew they had been set up for a God moment, a visit from the King. I think this had to be the “ahh-ha” moment of the century.

They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (‭Luke‬ ‭24‬:‭32‬ NLT)

Immediately they jumped up and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to find the rest of their posse.

Now, do you remember a moment or two like that? Do you still long for more moments like that or have you forgotten how they can jumpstart your faith? I know we don’t live in those moments very often or very long but we can live FOR those times.

Yes, God is always with us. We do live by faith when we can’t see or feel His Presence. But deep within us is a fire that needs to breathe the oxygen of His Spirit.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah had decided he was through trying to speak for God. No one listened anymore, no one cared about God’s laws, the poor or moral values. Greed consumed the culture. They were religious but not godly. He was just done! Sound like a familiar environment?

“But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭20‬:‭9‬ NLT)

They don’t know it but our communities are ripe for a visit from God. The Kingdom wants to move into your and my neighborhood. And I would guess you are ready for another visit, too. You can participate in a ground swell of His Kingdom coming by hosting His Presence. Amazing Grace will result as culture changes to welcome Him.

Here is a clip from AND: Gathered and Scattered.

“People long for these experiences where their hearts will burn again. Start by inviting them into some experiences they haven’t had before (or for a very long time). The experiences don’t have to be hard or push them too far; rather, just enough to have them say or think to themselves, ‘That was pretty cool; I think I saw God show up.'”

Maybe you won’t see a bush burn like Moses but his entire nation was moved because of his encounter with God.

If God showed up and gave one of us, or several of us heartburn maybe our nation . . .

Call for the Question

Dream with me a little. When you stand back and contemplate your life do you ever wonder if you have, or will make, a difference. An elementary and obvious query for folks who ponder about more than just the mundane “sleep . . . wake up . . . go to work . . . eat . . . back home . . . watch football . . . go to bed . . . (repeat)” kind of existence.

Most of our daily activity is arranged around patterns of repetition. We do and are what we have always done and been and don’t usually think about enlarging our life borders beyond these predictable boundaries and patterns. Only when some event or new relationship calls us awake and apart are we faced with a shaking of our self-centered homeostasis.

We long for significance. Significance is about identity and impact. So we hope that somehow when we pass on from this life we won’t be forgotten; that we will have made a difference; that we will have contributed to something much larger than we are. That we have made a difference in our social circles, a difference in our families, our faith communities, our legacies.

Why do we long to recast our lives in this way? Why are we aroused, or at least pause to muse, whether this life we relish (or tolerate) will have any import? Is there some inner insatiability that yearns for fulfillment? Why can’t the average human simply follow the mind-numbing script of day to day rhythms of “normal” life?

Lots of questions there. Personally, I am not satisfied with settling for the repetition of a pointless existence that generates no influence or impact on my fellow travelers. Are you? Did you ever wonder why you are here or if there is a purpose and significance to these few years you’ve been allotted on planet Earth.

I am increasingly convinced that not only is there an important reason for my presence here at this time but I am sure I have been called and outfitted for this time. No intent here to exhibit any ego issues, I just believe there is not only purpose, but call, gifts and power to accomplish my purpose.

How do I know? As I reminisce about the journey my family and I have been on, I see the hand of God in every event, every decision, every move, every relationship and every trial. Details are not necessary here but clearly we have been “set up” by God for the next season in our purpose-full life.

Each of us who have chosen to be a Jesus follower (and I might add all who have not yet intentionally chosen) have dormant within us the gifts, call and power to live out that purpose. To release these “enablements,” our part is to resolve to open our minds, hearts and spirits to allow that empty space of unfulfilled destiny to be inhabited by the dream God intends us to live out.

Ok, Dr. Gary; what does that look like and how can that happen, you rightfully question. Well, it does look different for each of us but maybe there are some common indicators and divine events that call us to this most excellent life.

Let me pose some questions. (I know; too many questions and not enough answers! I believe the best way of self-discovery is self dis-cover-y. Other words, you know the events in your own life and can dis- or un- cover how God has been at work.) So, let’s begin.

Is there a history of God-consciousness and/or God-faithfulness in your past and present? Has your spirit been quickened by God-activity in such a way as to cause a craving for more God-connection to be present and witness what God is doing, to join Him there? Is there an awareness of destiny for that which you feel is beyond anything you could have orchestrated or have lived out?

Do you believe you have gifts you yearn to share with others in Kingdom efforts that have not yet been fully employed? Have you wanted to be a tool of influence in culture but you have not found a place of expression? Is there a fire within you, a pent up energy that bubbles and bulges and heart-burns to be released?

Are there strange, crazy events and opportunities that present themselves that defy logic and “rational” behavior? When you step through open doors do you look in the rear view and wonder how those steps could possibly fit within the paradigm of known God activity?

Conversely, is there a lack of confidence in the prompting and timing of unction (Holy Spirit empowering) that seems to bring timidity and a consequent quenching of that fire? Or, is there some guilt or sin that screams out its presence when you might be encouraged to step out and be bold, bringing shameful silence instead of confident Kingdom life or warfare? Do you wonder if you even know how to hear God? Did you miss His voice of direction?

If I am sure of anything, it is this. Contrary to much of the theology I was taught in my impressionable years, God has not given up on this human experiment. In fact, He holds all the cards of power and will not allow it to fail. I said; He will not fail! There will not be only 12 or 13 people in the Kingdom to come. If so, why would He promise to pour out His spirit on all flesh just to annihilate almost everybody in some lake of fire? (Sorry, another question.)

In keeping with that thought, we should ask a further question. How might something like that Spirit pouring/drenching be accomplished? Well, God is going to have to get a bunch of people turned around and start living into their destiny. How will that happen? By awakening those who are called by His name and empowering them with confident, spirit infused lives of excellence coupled with opportunities for influencing culture and government toward repentance.

Ok, that was a mouthful, but I believe an astonishing change is in the cards that God holds and has started to reveal all over this land. When those who are called by His name pull their collective heads out of the sands of traditional theological assumptions and walk in purity, truth and confidence, an amazing, life-giving, life-validating move of God will break out in the land.

Cultural and religious strongholds of idolatry will be smashed. Wickedness in governing structures that are covenantally connected with spiritual powers of darkness will be broken. Bondages of mind and spirit, wealth and heritage will be released as families become free to serve God and others.

A pipe dream? Don’t think so. This kind of spiritual earthquake could unleash the Third Great Awakening, setting the table to usher in His Kingdom.

The last question I have for us is this. Do we want to live into our God-created significance? Are you; am I ready to take the next step into our intended destinies? That step is our choice. Let us join Him.

Your Kingdom Come!

Storied Past – 2

This is a story about failure, sin, pain and redemption. The names and story are fictional. It is ultimately God’s story because redemption happens through the faithfulness of God working in humans. They are amazing, adventurous followers of Jesus who desire to see His Kingdom influence increase until the reign of Shalom is a reality.

Storied Past – 2

“Hello?” The voice took on a human shape. “I thought I heard someone as I was walking Phredy.”

“Phredy? Who’s that?

“My mutt dog,” the voice returned. “Oh I’m sorry,” as she moved the light away from directly shining in Ramona’s eyes, now red from crying. “What are you doing here? Are you OK? Do you need some help?”

“I’m OK, I just, I don’t know. I just needed to get away somewhere and think.”

“You look scared, and cold, too. Can I take you somewhere and get some tea or something?”

“Well, I guess so; as long as I stay away from that church on Main Street.”

A few minutes later they found their way to Holy Grounds Coffee Company. Tying Phredy up outside, they went in. As they each cuddled a warm cup of tea, Ramona was still teary. Her rescuer looked at her with tender, inquisitive eyes but had said nothing since ordering at the counter. Ramona wondered if she should say anything, if this person would change her opinion about her and get all judgmental. She just couldn’t handle much more of that.

“I’m Becky,” her new friend offered. “What’s your name?” Ramona decided she might as well be civil. “Ramona.”

“Well, can you tell me a little about why I found you in such a strange place on a dark, cold night? I’m guessing you weren’t sight-seeing.”

Ramona really didn’t feel like responding but she figured she should say something since this person had gone out of her way to be nice.

“I . . . I . . . I’m pregnant” she finally blurted out.

“Well, Ramona, I’d like to help you if you’ll let me. Uh, when’s your baby due?” Becky’s voice was soft but contained a gentle strength that also conveyed genuine concern. Ramona shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She didn’t really want to talk about anything, much less her sin, but this whole thing was her fault, according to her father, and the problem was out there now so she’d better just deal with it.

Everybody Ramona knew, and probably some she didn’t know, had heard about the baby but nobody ever talked to her about it. When she was around they just whispered to each other looking out the corner of their eyes knowingly at Ramona.

“Umm, October” she replied. Becky waited a moment before she spoke. “From where I found you and the crying and all, I take it you’re not very excited about it.” Ramona hadn’t thought about that part of it. All she felt was guilt and shame and how this nightmare needed to be ended. The “A” word surfaced in her mind many times a day. But immediately the “M” word came screaming from the far recesses of her mind and she certainly didn’t want to be a murderer.

“No. No I’m not excited, I’m scared. I don’t really know who the father is and my father . . .” Her words trailed off. “Look, could we talk about this some other time?”

“Of course. Can I take you to your house? Oh, your dad . . . Look, I have a place for you for a few nights, if you’re OK with that.”

Ramona didn’t know. She didn’t want to intrude on this new friend’s generosity but she really didn’t have much choice. The bridge overpass idea was much less attractive anyway.

“That would be very nice of you but I don’t deserve any kindness. I screwed up, you know.”

“Well, we’ve all screwed up, Ramona. Thankfully, someone was there for me and loved me through my pain.” Becky led the way out of the coffee shop to her car. Ramona was surprised at herself. Since the horrible experience was confirmed at the hospital, this was the first time she voluntarily offered the truth about being pregnant; and to a stranger! Well, at least it was likely this stranger didn’t know her friends and would gossip. And what pain was Becky talking about? Did she have a baby, too? Maybe she had a dad like hers. In any case, Becky sounded like she had some kind of an idea how Ramona felt. That was comforting.

“I just have a small apartment but you can crash there. I work evenings except Sundays and Mondays so you can have some sleeping privacy. Have you had morning sickness yet?”

“Just a few times so far. It wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard but I definitely hurled.” They both smiled. Ramona started to relax. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. She did need to talk to someone and Becky’s bedside manner made her feel like she could finally let some of her pain out.

A few minutes later they walked up to a modest apartment building. As they headed up the flight of stairs Ramona said, “Oh, I forgot. Thank you for this, and thanks for the tea. It’s been a while since . . .”

“No worries,” Becky quickly replied. “Like I said, I am here to help out. Someone showed kindness to me and changed my perspective on life.” They walked into the tiny but welcoming main room. Phredy was finally free from his leash and bounced around excitedly. “You see, Ramona, I try to be aware of God’s leading and He obviously led me to you!”

“Oh, no!” Ramona thought. She suddenly felt weak in the knees. “Another religious zealot! What did I get myself into? I let down my guard and got trapped by another one. Why was I so stupid? I’m better off dealing with this problem myself.” Fear rushed in and overwhelmed her for a moment. Must condemnation be her lot in life? And this . . . this baby, some people called it a fetus, whatever, this baby was really more like a forbidding, future death sentence. A dark thought clouded her mind for a moment. She could bring this whole thing to a sudden stop. Maybe that was the best. Just end it; maybe her and the baby. That’s why cowering under the bridge seemed so . . . appropriate. The railing above was convenient. She suddenly realized Becky was staring at her with a worried, almost frightened look.

“Are you OK,” she enquired? “You turned real white there for a second. It’s not morning, either. You’d better sit down.”

-To be Continued-

Storied Past

We, some of my friends and readers, have a shared past. After reading today’s post maybe some of the story will resonate with you, as well. The historical highway of Christianity is littered with wounded fellow travelers. A review of ancient Israel tells of abusive activities of the priests against the worshipers in the name of JHWH, the God of Israel. Recalling the account of Jerusalem during the time of the historical Jesus reveals that he, too, witnessed the religious sects of that day using the law and tradition to perpetrate and justify abuses. The priests of that era took advantage of those trying to meet the demands of a God who seemed full of His own harsh religiosity. Religious requirements detailing the worship activity, sacrifice, diet, tithing and other legal strictures belied and clouded God’s prophetic intent to point to covenant relationship, not rules.

Sadly, our institutional church landscape the last many years has not brought much improvement. There does seem to be an awakening from the importance of religious rule-minding and returning to our mission given by Jesus himself, and this is encouraging. We must not live in the past because . . . well, it is in the past. But there are a few friends who still struggle with the various stages of healing and some who have yet to begin the process.

My Doctoral dissertation is on the topic of spiritual abuse but it is an academic piece whose purpose is to meet certain university standards. If you wish to read it, it is at this link: http://catalog.georgefox.edu/search/?searchtype=X&searcharg=spiritual+abuse&searchgo=

With that preface, I offer this piece of fiction in my meager effort to promote healing. The characters do not exist but their story does. You may identify with their experiences, as well.

Storied Past

Coldly held tight by her memories and her guilt, Ramona crouched next to the damp concrete bridge abutment. The dark evening and rocky soil held no promise of comfortable accommodations. Why had she let him so close to her? Perhaps his affirming compliments about her features disarmed her usually impenetrable wall of protection. She didn’t particularly think of herself as beautiful but it did feel good to hear someone tell her nice things. Ramona’s father certainly couldn’t. All he ever did was demand obedience from her and make her feel like she wasn’t good enough. He did talk about love, a kind of detached, theoretical love, especially in church. But now she couldn’t recall ever seeing much of anything that sounded like the kind of love she wanted and needed.

Church! There was a joke if ever she heard one. The way most people acted there she didn’t care if she ever heard another “Amen!” or “Praise the Lord.” Take the worship leader, for instance. Randy was a nice guy and all but Ramona knew he was always hitting on Jenny, the main vocalist. Maybe that’s why she was the main vocalist. And the pastor seemed preoccupied with the Old Testament laws and rules and stuff and kept reminding everyone that God wanted us to be perfect like He was. He suggested that “real” Christians did stuff like fast and pray a lot and read their Bibles every morning. She tried for a while and liked that she was making God happy by obeying what the ministry said but she got tired of doing it and decided it was too much work. She had more fun hanging out with the kids at college. At least they knew how to party!

At first Ramona felt guilty. She recalled being warned that University would destroy her faith because she would be dragged down by sinners. But Ramona enjoyed her imperfect friends. The kids her age in the church would never go to the show or even be seen with their neighbors. The pastor said the evil in this would influence them and cause them to sin so they should stay away from worldly attractions and people who were not Christians.

So that was it. Ramona had tried to be a good girl, she really did. It did seem funny that very few others in church had the same problems with rules that she did. But how could she know? No one ever talked about any struggles they had—maybe they didn’t have any. Maybe she was the only one who couldn’t live like Pastor Marlowe demanded. So she quit going to church and put a wall up to anyone who seemed to be telling her what to do. It seemed like the only one who understood her was Paul. He was the guy across the bar from her who smiled kindly a few weeks ago. It was only the third or fourth time she had gone to The Rock Ness Bar and Grill. The music was fun and kind of like what she listened to anyway.

Paul asked her to dance. Not having much experience with dancing she declined so Paul sat down next to her. “What’s a nice girl like you . . . never mind. And yes, I say that to all the girls I meet.” Ramona laughed. He had a great smile and pretty teeth. A few minutes later they were speeding along on the way to a private party Paul had told her about.

Several hours later she slowly came to and felt something was terribly wrong. Her body hurt and her head still pounded like her blood pressure was going crazy. Where was that guy, what was his name, Paul? She slowly sat up and looked around now realizing she was on someone’s lawn; someone’s lawn she didn’t recognize. A few beer bottles were lying here and there. Pushing herself to her feet she went to the front door. She knocked several times but there was no answer.

What happened last night? Why didn’t she remember anything? But this nagging pain below was the scariest. Suddenly she knew what must have happened and a dreadful fear gripped her. Why had she been so stupid? Surely this is what Brother Marlowe predicted.

Now, here in the cold darkness the guilt seemed to smother any hope for a way back home. Her father had thrown her out of the house when he heard about the baby. He was embarrassed. She had made him look bad to the whole church. She deserved it. She was only trying to have fun, something no one in church would understand. But how could she explain that now.

What choices, what kind of life, if any, would there be for a 20 year old who was pregnant, didn’t know her baby’s father and worst of all, she had burned the only bridge of hope when she swore off the church and all those hardcore, hard-hearted perfectionists?

“Anyone here?” Ramona heard a voice. “I thought I heard someone crying. Are you OK?” She looked up as she saw a dim flashlight.

-To Be Continued-

Bringing in the “trash”ed

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  -Frederich Buechner

I want you to recall with me that moment or hour where the world stopped. You know when I mean. There was a divine appointment waiting and the faithful Spirit nudged you. At first there was hesitation. What? Really? Serious? But that’s the job of “The Ministry.” Your ego blushed with the thought of embarrassment. Was that kick in the seat really necessary, or even legitimate? Yeah, you needed it. After all, this idea taking shape in your consciousness is way outside the proverbial box. You needed to call someone and meet with them because they needed you.

The phone call was less than satisfying–at least it seemed so. Yes, you could come by but you sensed apprehension at the other end; or maybe a low grade fear. Then panic surfaced in you. “Oh why did I do that?”

In a tentative move forward you approached them. As you gently probed to assess the reception potential your spirit seemed to affirm your boldness. As you talked, you gained a holy confidence and you sensed inner agreement coupled with joy that you just might have heard right.

I have experienced this a few times. On one occasion I called my friend who had just been trashed by the church. I didn’t know details about what had happened but for some reason, I felt he was vulnerable and might even be tempted to abandon his faith. His faithfulness to the system was total, unquestioned loyalty but the system had yielded a final rejection that left him metaphorically swimming in dark, smelly . . . uh, mud. As I drove to his place of business, I second and third guessed this crazy impulse.

He was understandably wary at first. You need to understand that the system we both knew well didn’t condone questions about the system or its decisions. All authority rested with and was wielded by the leaders.

We talked. I encouraged him. Then he and his wife visited my church with me. In time, God lifted him up out of that dark place through a community of love and corporate worship. I still remember looking over at him, his face wet with tears as God washed away pain and rejection. The last time I saw him he reminded me of that day when despair and disappointment lost the battle against Spirit driven love and compassion.

So, you’ve had a moment like that, haven’t you? What did it do to you and for you?

There is a deep, deep hunger in our communities. Oh, it is masked by overt consumerism, leisure, constant business, and entertainment and negative activities like addictions. Anything to keep the mind occupied and avoid facing the empty-ness. Can you hear the deafening quiet of disillusioned, unfulfilled existences?

There is a place where time seems to stop. Where your true calling meets a need pointed out to you by the ever faithful Spirit. I am convinced I pass by these needs every day but I am oblivious or otherwise (read self-focused) occupied.

The Main Street on which the Kingdom of God travels is love. I think love is inert and incomplete when alone or has no object of affection. Love is ordained to be (big, misunderstood word coming) sanctified (perfectly complete or whole) when unconditionally lavished on another. I know from my own flawed existence that it is difficult, if not impossible, to love self-less-ly without Holy Spirit because my nature screams for primary care and feeding.

You might have guessed, I believe we are ALL “The Ministry.” By definition a minister is a servant. Love is the motivation for Spirit-led service. If love is “out of character” for you then get it into your character, then you won’t be a character but carry-er of Shalom, the evidence and presence of the Kingdom of God.